I begin by declaring an interest as a non-practising member of the Bar.
I warmly congratulate Mr. Beith on the way in which he chaired and led the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs, and I, too, thank others who have helped the Committee. I also congratulate him on the way in which he opened the debate. I strongly agree with the approach that he took, which he has taken throughout the proceedings of the Committee. He has made no secret of his general support for the proposals, but whether or not there is support for them, it is clear that they are here for us to examine. His attitude and that taken by the other members of the Committee has been to make positive contributions to improve matters as much as possible and to take a responsible approach to a subject of great importance.
In advocating a responsible approach, I would not like that position to be thought of as implying approval of the course to which the Government have turned their hand. It is hard to think of a more deeply unnecessary set of reforms than the ones that the Government have proposed and that are being embodied in their Constitutional Reform Bill. To call them change for change's sake would be to flatter the rationale that lies behind them. The first point made by the Committee in its report is extremely important. It is that our present system for appeals works well and that it therefore enjoys the highest possible standing not only in this country, but throughout the world.
I do not believe that, in making their case, the advocates of reform or Ministers can point to a single example of a way in which the present arrangements do not work well in practice. They advance their case on the basis of perception. In their response to our report, we are told:
"Having an independent Supreme Court will also increase public confidence in and understanding of the judicial system, as it will be demonstrably separate from the legislature."
I was not aware of a shortage of public confidence in the work of the House of Lords at present. I do not know whether it will improve by being so demonstrably separate from the legislature and whether such matters exercise my constituents.